Its gameday down in Mobile, Alabama and this is the final live action we will see when it comes to some of the top prospects in the nation. It has been a great week and a very useful tool in the process of evaluating these future NFL players by seeing how they perform against other top talent under the same conditions and how they respond to NFL coaching. They have had 6-7 days to acclimate themselves to their new team, and now it’s time to watch the event they have been working towards all week. While the majority of the scouting process in Mobile took place during the practices, the game is also an important piece of the puzzle. There will be a lot to examine in the game but here is what but I will preview the offense vs. defense matchups and give you a feel for what to expect.
NORTH OFFENSE vs SOUTH DEFENSE
One negative that stood out to me when watching the North offense work throughout the week were the weak performances of the blockers up front. Now, in football the group of players that benefit the most from chemistry is the offensive line, so it is understandable that these players were having simple communication breakdowns. But even with that in mind, the North offensive line could not keep the likes of Jared Odrick (Penn State), Tyson Alualu (California), and Brandon Graham (Michigan) out of the backfield. They will be up against a better group of defensive linemen from the South and if the week of practice was at all an indicator, the North’s quarterbacks are going to have a hard time throwing the ball downfield. The most intriguing matchups to watch in the trenches will come from the interior though. The best offensive lineman in Mobile, and arguably the player that will go highest in the draft, is Mike Iupati (Idaho). He has completely dominated anyone that was placed in front of him, but he will be up against three defensive tackles that will provide a stiff test. Terrence Cody (Alabama) appears to be out of shape, but he was impossible to move all week. Dan Williams displayed a combination of strength, size, and speed that I’m sure Iupati has never faced before. And Geno Atkins (Georgia) has clearly been the most explosive interior defensive lineman in Mobile all week. We will get to see how Iupati handles all of these different kinds of players throughout the game. Centers Matt Tennant (Boston College) and Eric Olsen (Notre Dame) are also potential top 75 picks that will face some of the stiffest competition they’ve seen in the careers, and how they respond will impact their draft status come April.
If the offensive line can get creases for the ground attack, I expect a couple of north running backs to have a field day. First off is LeGarrette Blount (Oregon) whom at 6’1 – 245 pounds has easily been the most physical ball carrier here. He has been running like a back with something to prove and considering he was forced to sit out almost the entire year because of an altercation at Boise State, he does. Blount has been running with power, aggression, and downfield speed that I did not think he had. The South defense has a small group of linebackers and if Blount can square them up and reach them with little resistance from the defensive line, he is going to put on a show that will be sure to open up the eyes of teams that need a short yardage back. Here are the weights of the South’s linebacker squad. 241 – 236 – 246 – 229 – 232. Blount is bigger than all but one of those linebackers at the second level. Joique Bell (Wayne State) and Lonyae Miller (Fresno State) are both physical, downhill runners that weight 220+ and they will be able to display their ability to push the pile forward if the space is provided.
Coming in to the week, I was expecting to see the South’s defensive backfield ‘wow’ everyone in sight but I was left with a lackluster feel for them. Cornerbacks Trevard Lindley (Kentucky) and Patrick Robinson (Florida State) had a hard time playing press coverage and if there is one thing about the North’s wide receivers that they do well as a group, it is play a physical style of football. Donario Alexander (Missouri) and Dorin Dickerson (Pittsburgh) may not be the quickest players on the field, but they can win the one on one battles with their strength alone. Mardy Gilyard (Cincinnati) and JACOBY Ford (Clemson) are legitimate threats with the ball in their hands they will make defenders miss in space if they are given the smallest of windows to explode through. It will be important for the likes of Taylor Mays (USC) Nate Allen (South Florida) Harry Coleman (LSU) and Myron Rolle (Florida State), all physical players that have had issues with their tackling at times, to taken them down when the opportunity is there. Garrett Graham (Wisconsin) and Ed Dickson (Oregon) are both tight ends that need to bulk up before they are every down factors at the next level but here in Mobile, they will be used a lot in the game. In a game where I am sure we will see a lot of short passes, Graham and Dickson are both reliable route runners and they both catch the ball well. They’re quicker than they are fast, but that works in a short passing game.
The North’s quarterbacks were, to be kind, less than inspiring throughout the week and the game is going to be more important for them than anyone here. Tony Pike looked absolutely horrid as he adjusted to the pro-style offense. His footwork just isn’t there and his awkward throwing mechanics often caused his balls to wobble and sail away from his intended target. The signal caller I was highest on all week was Oregon State’s Trevor Canfield. The southpaw threw the best balls and his accuracy was on point from day one, something you usually do not see on a team full of guys playing with each other for the first time. The issues with his arm strength are there, but I’ll be interested in seeing him take a couple shots downfield and outside the numbers.
SOUTH OFFENSE vs. NORTH DEFENSE
As I noted before, the issues with the blocking that the North’s offensive line had all week most likely had to do with the lack of chemistry and lack of ability. However, the defensive line that the North will put out there deserves some credit as they are a blue collar group that will give their opponents a myriad amount of fits in the trenches. Jared Odrick (Penn State) is a legitimate first round contender that has a blend of brute strength and quickness that is very difficult for one blocker to handle. He gets off the ball exceptionally well and after watching a couple of the South interior linemen struggle, he could have himself a day. Mike Johnson (Alabama) and John Jerry (Ole Miss) were up and down in their one on one drills, and Odrick is simply a different kind of player than what they are used to being up against. Brandon Graham was virtually unblockable all week, just as he’s been at Michigan over the past two seasons. He has a couple of favorable matchups against Chris Scott (Tennesee), Selvish Capers (West Virginia), and Ciron Black (LSU) because they all struggle to play with strong knee bend, playing exactly in to what Graham wants because of his ability to play low and make himself small to a blocker. Keep an eye on Alex Carrington (Arkansas State) who opened a lot of eyes this week with his size, playing strength, and deceptive quickness off the ball. There were times where he looked like the best defensive player in Mobile, and a strong game performance could make him the winner of the week in terms of draft stock.
The North’s front seven bottled up the inside running game all week in practice, so it will be interesting to see how they fare against a South rushing attack that does not have a lot capability in terms of an outside the tackles in their ground attack. Stafon Johnson (USC) and Anthony Dixon (Mississippi State) provide a similar skill set to what the North’s linebackers saw throughout the week and if history is an indicator, they will struggle to get the pile moving forward. However there is a wildcard option here that I am sure the Dolphins coaching staff will look to exploit. Dexter McCluster (Ole Miss) is listed on the roster as a wide receiver, but he saw plenty of time at running back in practice, and he does have over 300 career carries for the Rebels on his resume. He brings a speed and quickness dimension that could give the North linebackers a few problems. As much as I like Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri) as a middle linebacker, he looked uncomfortable in space this week. The plays where he looked average or worse usually took place when he was outside of traffic with just him and the ball carrier on the outside. The same goes for Koa Misi (Utah) and AJ Edds (Iowa), two guys that can play a strong power game but the speed of McCluster could make them look silly if they’re found in space matched up against each other. That could be the opportunity for TCU’s Daryl Washington to really display the kind of athlete he is, as I have been raving about his ability to move from sideline to sideline all week.
I said earlier stated that I was surprised by the lack of quality in the South’s defensive backfield and I was just as surprised with the North’s, but in the opposite direction. Kyle Wilson (Boise State) put on a clinic every day and displayed his ability in man coverage, something that made him a lot of money this week. Also try to keep an eye on Chris Cook (Virginia) whom I believe may have the highest upside of any defensive back in Mobile. His length is a weapon in press coverage, and he is very smooth in his backpedal and breaks. In a game where the quarterbacks are sure to take chances downfield to display their arms, Cook should receive the opportunity to make a big play. Terrell Skinner (Maryland) and Larry Asante (Nebraska) have proven to be enforcers over the middle and they will lay the wood if a ball is tossed over the middle. The South has a group of wide receivers that lack speed, but they are still effective because they run precise routes and catch the football when it is within reach. Shay Hodge (Ole Miss) and Andre Roberts (Citadel) are the two most NFL ready receivers of the group in terms of route running and hands. They were beating the press coverage all week and getting the separation underneath that quarterbacks love to work with. Joe Webb (UAB) has the wide receiver body and he had a few plays during practice that displayed his big play ability, and I’m sure he will receive a deep pass or two. One tight end that I think will have an impact is Jimmy Graham (Miami). Graham struggled as an in-line blocker, but the 6’6 former basketball player was catching everything thrown his way and really knows how to use his body. The North may not have a matchup that could stick with him in coverage.
Watching Tim Tebow (Florida) is going to be a lot of fun. He is clearly trying to prove he can hack it as an NFL passer, and I think he will try to stay in the pocket longer than he usually does and get the ball out. His day-to-day progress as a passer was enough for me to be convinced he can do it at the next level. He was very accurate with his downfield passing and I could tell the more secure he got with his footwork, the more precise his passes were. I’m sure we will still see a few gadget plays with him, as I saw a few practiced throughout the week and we all know how well he does running the ball. Jarrett Brown (West Virginia) showed flashes this week and there were times where he looked like the best quarterback in Mobile. He has a very strong arm and he can deliver it short, intermediate, and deep. He had issues putting touch on the ball at times though and he needs to do a better job of getting the ball to the spot where his receiver can get to it.
It is hard to project who will win this game because these guys have played with each other for a week, and football is much more about chemistry and coaching than talent when it comes to this level. One could make the argument the South has more star power, but the North squad is a team full of overachievers and those are the types I prefer. So with that said, here is my game prediction and the one player to watch on each side of the ball.
North – 20
South – 17
North Offensive Player to Watch: Mike Iupati – G – Idaho
North Defensive Player to Watch – Chris Cook – CB – Virginia
South Offensive Player to Watch – Dexter McCluster – RB/WR – Ole Miss
South Defensive Player to Watch – Perrish Cox – CB – Oklahoma State
Enoy the game and look for New Era Scouting’s Senior Bowl recap on Monday!